Helical membrane proteins such as transporters, receptors, or channels often exhibit structural symmetry. Symmetry is perfect in homo-oligomers consisting of two or more copies of the same protein chain. Intriguingly, in single chain membrane proteins, often internal pseudo-symmetry is observed, in particular in transporters and channels. In several cases single chain proteins with pseudo-symmetry exist, that share the fold with homo-oligomers suggesting evolutionary pathways that involve gene duplication and fusion. It has been hypothesized that such evolutionary pathways allow for the rapid development of large proteins with novel functionality. At the same time symmetry can be leveraged to recognize highly symmetric substrates such as ions. Here we review helical transporter proteins with an inverted two-fold pseudo-symmetry. In this special scenario the symmetry axis lies in the membrane plane. As a result, the putative ancestral monomeric protein would insert in both directions into the membrane and its open-to-the-inside and open-to-the-outside conformations would be structurally identical and iso-energetic, giving a possible evolutionary pathway to create a transporter protein that needs to flip between the two states.
JournaltitleComputational and Structural Biotechnology Journal